SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Family and friends are remembering a 12-year-old girl killed in a crash on a Sacramento freeway while trying to save her friend’s life as “a bright light.”

This happened Wednesday just off of Watt Avenue, as the two young girls left the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento.

Kendra Czekaj died shortly after her 12th birthday. Days after her death, there are still questions about what happens inside the facility.

Krystell Spears, a longtime family friend of Kenda Czekaj, painted a picture of what life was like for the young girl before she died.

“A lot of times she would cry herself to sleep,” Spears said.

For the past year, Kendra had been in and out of the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento. Spears, who has known Kendra since she was a toddler, would hear from Kendra that she didn’t feel safe. She was just one of the many teenagers at the facility who grew up faced with family trauma.

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“She said she didn’t have any rules, it was a free-for-all,” Spears said.

Caltrans Cameras captured the terrifying moments after the crash that took her life. She was running across the fast lane of northbound Capital City Freeway when she was hit by a car.
Her friend, distraught, was in the median of the highway and Kendra was trying to save her life.

“Kendra dying shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “There should have been procedures set in place to keep these children safe.”

State law requires that kids placed under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court because of abuse and neglect are to be in non-secured placements, meaning they can come and go.

Spears is now fighting for procedural changes so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“I feel like us as a community, we failed this little girl, and I want to do something to help that,” Spears said.

A recurring issue appears to be kids leaving the facility without permission. Records reveal kids repeatedly left the home without permission, citing under-staffing and staff sleeping on the job.

“Isn’t that a problem? That you can’t lock a child in a safe place? To protect them? That’s a problem,” said Spears.

The facility says they are not permitted to lock kids on campus, but the staff is required to follow them to persuade them to return, which they say they did Wednesday night.